Separation Anxiety 4 year old starting school in September

(19 Posts)
cazzyb67 Mon 05-Aug-13 16:03:45

Hey everyone

I was wondering if anyone has any tips for me and my son who is starting school in September. He was quite excited about the prospect until he spent a bit of time meeting his new class and teacher (who is lovely) - and basically he cried through the whole lesson and said he was really sad as he missed us (me and his dad and sister) ... he has since become very moany, complains of being tired all the time, has tummy ache a lot, he is finding it hard to get to sleep and waking really early and will not be apart from us. He is also a really fussy eater normally but it is getting worse and today he refused to eat in front of other people (one of my friends and her two children). My friend says maybe he is scared of losing control and so is getting control back in every way he can - which could be true (he is very particular about the way things should happen and hates change)

But I am just worried about how he (and we) is going to cope in September when he has to wear a school uniform, be there all day and eat lunch there!

My partner says we should be stricter with him, I am cuddling him more and neither approach seems to be working

Any tips much appreciated!

OP’s posts: |
TeenAndTween Mon 05-Aug-13 17:27:12

Have you done leaving him before, e.g at nursery or a toddler group?
How has he managed with that?

It sounds like he is getting himself into quite a state, poor thing, and poor you. I think your friends could well be right.

Will he start full time straight away, or just mornings to start with?

Does the school have yR start on first day back, or a few days later, or is there an INSET day at the start of term. If not on first day and he is still in a real state then pop in and ask to spoeak to teacher or leave a note so they are forewarned.

My (adopted) DD2, about to go into y4 goes through patches of being clingy in the morning (though is OK when in).

I would suggest the following:
- stop all mention of school (incl by relatives) for the next month until 2-3 days beforehand.
- buy stuff he needs for school without him there or without being explicit about it.
(if he wasn't worked up about it already I would suggest more talking about it, but I don't think that will help now)

- on the not eating infront of others at the moment I would either avoid that needing to occur, or ignore it if it happens and just say 'oh not hungry now, OK, say if you want it later'. don't make a fuss about it.

- if you've never left him before, can you leave him at some playdates for an hour or so, working up a bit, so he gets used to it.

- have a toy for him to take in his bag, and/or a picture of you or similar. this stays in his bag, but he can go and look at it
- if you can get info from school beforehand (or a parent whose child has just done yR), you could make a visual timetable for him so he knows when you'll be coming back
- on first day, don't arrive too early as it will give you all time to be anxious. try to make it a quick goodbye and in if you possibly can. to be honest nothing is gained by letting you or him get worked up. you may then be able to go and wait at the school office (only if out of sight) and get someone to pop down after 30mins to reassure you he is OK).
- notes/pictures/treats in lunchbox to let him know you're thinking of him


Hellocleaveland Mon 05-Aug-13 18:54:36

Hi, I am a Reception teacher and also have a very clingy son who started Reception last year (not where I teach) - I knew there would be problems because he had great difficulty separating from me in Nursery. His Nursery teacher was wonderful and was happy for me to settle him in slowly by staying with him for the first week and then leaving for longer periods until he was happier, although he still cried every morning for the first few months. When he was due to start Reception ( at the same school), I spoke to the teacher in advance of him starting and explained that he suffered from separation anxiety, and although we both agreed I wouldn't actually stay with him in class at all, I did come in with him every morning to put his coat etc away, and settle him. She was happy to let me do this, and as a teacher myself I don't feel that the 'chuck them in at the deep end' approach to starting school is very helpful. I suggest you speak to his teacher about how you can help him settle, and do not be fobbed off with any "oh, they all cry, he'll get used to it" nonsense - they don't, and causing a child distress is no way to start off their school experience. It is not good practise to keep you out of the classroom, and Reception is supposed to be a continuation of the Foundation Stage, not a fast track to Year 1. Sorry, rant over! Lots of great advice from teen there too. My son cried every morning for the first term and the beginning of the second term, it was heartbreaking, but then halfway through the second term it was like a switch had flipped and he was completely fine! It just had to be in his own time. Good luck, feel free to message me, it's a horrid business...

Kwaziisgingerface Mon 05-Aug-13 19:20:12

Have you heard of "lovebombing"? It's a book/technique proposed by Oliver James. It should work quite well for anxiety and separation issues. It may be worth giving it a try before school starts: even if it does not help it will not do any harm. I must admit i haven't tried it yet, but am reading the book at the moment (on phone so can't link, but i got my copy from amazon).

The basic technique is pretty simple: plan some one on one time, where you just focus all your love and attention on the child (lots of cuddles, i love you's, co-sleeping), during the special time the child gets to be in control and decide what activities you will do. The idea is that the child has double whammy of feeling very secure and also in control.

cazzyb67 Mon 05-Aug-13 20:56:06

Sounds interesting ... I will definitely give it a go ... It certainly won't do him any harm!

OP’s posts: |
cazzyb67 Mon 05-Aug-13 21:06:26

Sorry ... I don't know quite how to message on here ... It's my first time! But to answer some questions, he has been at pre school since he was 3 and didn't settle so well there either. He went 3 mornings a week for 2.5 hours and cried at drop off for nearly 1.5 years and whilst the nursery assured us he was fine once we left (and better if his dad dropped him off!) he didn't speak to them for pretty much the whole time his was there (with a few exceptions) and so they got SENCO involved who couldn't decide if he didn't feel safe there or if he was selectively mute!

I have met his teacher and explained this all to her and she has seen him at his most normal in our home but the school has a 'drop off in the playground' policy for all children ... I guess we try and make that bit as short as possible.

And it's a good point / question about the talking about it ... Some people have advised me to talk about it to him lots but the more it gets mentioned the more introverted he gets! ... Life shouldn't be so hard at 4!

I like the idea do putting something in his bag too ...

We do have a couple of play dates arranged with the only other person we know who is going to the same school (but different class) for a bit later in the month but sadly most of his preschool are in a different catchment so it will be a class full of strange faces

So ... Do you think we should practice wearing the uniform and play schools? Should we walk to his school for another look? ... Or just forget it for now and enjoy the next 4 weeks and then panic?!

OP’s posts: |
LynetteScavo Mon 05-Aug-13 21:11:55

"and so they got SENCO involved who couldn't decide if he didn't feel safe there or if he was selectively mute!"

I' guessing the two are intertwined in some way.

My heart is bleeding for your little boy. I could actually cry.

My DS1 was similar, but no where near as articulate about his feelings.

What I do know is being stricter is not what he needs. His anxiety is going to come out somewhere/somehow.

I think your friend is spot on.


Lizziegeorge Tue 06-Aug-13 07:48:04

My son was anxious too, so over the holidays I made him as independent as possible ( getting dressed, going to the loo, doing jobs, helping with shopping, taught him to swim) to really build his self-confidence and I too did love bombing. I didn't mention school but most days made a point of driving past his school and waving but saying ' hi school ' in as matter of fact way as possible. After a while he joined in and eventually started to talk about it. He was still anxious but no tears and settled in quickly.. Good luck I'm a teacher and I genuinely believe it is worse for the parents as usually the children are fine within minutes but you worry all day. Once he's started ask his teacher if a Ta could phone you to reassure you he's ok. They should offer.

Hellocleaveland Tue 06-Aug-13 09:19:05

Oh dear, a "drop off in the playground policy for all children". Brilliant. I suggest you ask to speak to the Head and explain that you do not feel that this would be appropriate for your child and ask how they can help you settle him. I welcome parents to come in to my Reception Class to settle children in, certainly at the beginning - it should be part of the whole school 'parents as partners' fact some were still coming in at the end of the Summer Term - what's the problem?! No one was crying or upset, I just didn't see a reason to keep parents out! I teach in an Outstanding school which is also a Teaching School (offers training and guidance to other schools), and dropping Reception children off in the playground does not seem like good practise to me. Would starting him part time help him (and you)? He doesn't have to attend school full time until the term following his 5th birthday, despite what the school might say. Of course there are many children who are initially a bit upset at starting school, and who cry when they leave their carer, and then settle quite quickly, but it sounds to me like your son had a very hard time in pre school and suffered quite badly from separation anxiety, so treating him like the majority of children may not work. Is he generally anxious about things, or just this? My son is once again a bit worried about moving to Year 1, but his teachers have been really helpful and I don't anticipate any problems past the first few days when it is all new again. We are taking the approach of not really talking about it, because we tend to over-talk things I think as a family (I was a trainee Psychologist before I went into teaching!) and actually I have realised this can prolong his worrying. Good luck with it all, I really feel for you. By the way, to message people there should be a little "message poster" on the right of their user name.

Saracen Tue 06-Aug-13 09:58:16

Alternatively, would it be an option to wait until your son actually wants to go to school and feels ready to be away from you? It sounds like he doesn't feel up to it yet. Is there a particular reason why you need/want him to start now?

Through home education I have met a number of children who didn't want to be away from their parents at four, and who were allowed to separate in their own time.

Many people say that a separation must be forced sooner or later, or the child will never want to leave you, and so you may as well get it over with early on. I don't know of any evidence that this is true. If you actually can afford to wait until your child feels ready, the time will come and he will be happy about it. People will say half-jokingly that you don't want your child still clinging to mummy's knee when he is 20. But that doesn't happen. I have never met or even heard of a child who never felt ready to leave his parents. For some children the age is three, for others it is five or six or later. But it always comes. Kids have a natural drive to explore and become more independent over time, but they need a secure base from which to launch themselves.

And even if you aren't in a position to wait "as long as it takes", but only for a year or two before your son really has to start school, I still think that separation is easier for a more secure older child who has had his needs met up to that point. They develop the mature understanding and coping strategies that make separation more bearable.

If you're worried about the possibility of losing your son's school place if he doesn't start now, you could take the option to defer his start as long as you are allowed. (That is the term after his fifth birthday, or the end of Reception year, whichever is earlier.) If he still doesn't want to go then, you could reassess and decide how important it is for him to go to that particular school and whether you are willing to let him wait longer before he starts school.

plain Fri 13-Sep-13 17:00:55

Hello cazzyb67,
how is it going now? Has your son (I think I'm supposed to say DS) already started?
I have a 4 year old who should start in Reception in a week's time. All seemed fine until we went for a "transition session": children to start getting used to the classroom with parents there. He started clinging on me like mad, turning his face away from anyone who talked to him. He then did not want to be left at his childminder's, although he has been in childcare since he was 5 months old (I work full-time), and loves staying with this childminder. It is not the first time this happened though. When his older brother left the nursery to go to start school he had a period of "separation anxiety" which lasted almost a year. The nursery told me it was over in a few minutes. I sort of believe it, as he is a very happy, social child. Still every morning my heart was torn.
Dear cazzyb67, it really is hard, I know.

anitasmall Sun 15-Sep-13 14:31:35

4 year old child is not (fully) ready for main stream education. Some are too attached to parents, can't sit still for 1 hour, can't use pencil/scissors safely, wet themselves, need an afternoon sleep... In other countries children start school when they are 6-7 years old and the education system is more flexible. (It is easier to hold summer born children back. They are also considering children's physical readiness which is 110cm and 18-20 kg. Part of the things they consider is if the child is willing to go to school and social skill.) If he is sad at school and misses parents he is not ready. Try to ask for reduced sessions or try to hold him back 1 year. Is he a weak, tiny child?

plain Wed 18-Sep-13 13:10:57

Hi Anitasmall,
my child is not tiny (probably 110 cm, 19 kg, 4 years and 3 months) and relatively strong. He is pretty independent in many ways (I can't remember his last toilet accident, he dresses himself, he doesn't need a nap). He is also generally adventurous, and happy to play with other children - slightly shy at first, but warm and open after a while. To tell the truth, I'd say he is perfectly ready for school. He likes to count things, for instance. This school-related clinginess came "out-of-the-blue". It seems a bit different for cazzyb67's son.
For us, staying for a while in the classroom does not seem to ease things at all. It just gets worse. What I really hate is having to force him to let me go, in the end.

JuliaScurr Wed 18-Sep-13 13:22:32

do not trick or force him - that resulted in huge probs & school refusal for dd & home ed
finally resolved by genius head who encouraged us to come in to class room, then sit near door, outside door, round corner, next room, in car outside, then leave mobile - gradual withdrawal with easy escape for dd to 'safe' place if needed
dd was cured in 2 months after years of sep. anx.

find a school that has that as their preferred strategy or you risk making him worse

JuliaScurr Wed 18-Sep-13 13:27:19

yes plain it has to be done at the child's pace; it took us about a week at each stage in the list
I felt sorry for the teacher having parents in the class room smile

RiversideMum Wed 18-Sep-13 18:05:54

It is generally true that children who cry on being dropped off stop within 5 minutes. It's probably best to establish a very firm routine and for all adults to being saying the same thing, which needs to be the truth. Saying "mummy will be back at 3" (or a child way of explaining this) is better than "see you soon".

plain Thu 19-Sep-13 10:17:10

Thanks everyone. (shattered by having to impose another forced separation)

There do seem to be two schools of thought. One suggests a very gradual transition, with the child accepting every small step towards separation, the other suggests a very firm routine, presumably terminating, for a while, with a physical restraint of the child as the mother moves away.

The first requires the mum to have hours of morning time available at the beginning of the process. But I need to go to work, I cannot afford otherwise. I can take a morning or two here and there, but not weeks/months of mornings.

Will the second approach harm him badly? Does anyone have experience of forcefully leaving their child at school, and then regretting it for years? I have the impression, that if I am truthful to him, as Riverside mentions, and give him plenty of "love-bombing" on all occasions when we are together, he will cry at school for some 10 minutes, for a few weeks, but eventually settle down and start enjoying the school.

This second approach is tough on me too. In fact, I'm at work now, but hardly productive...

JuliaScurr Fri 20-Sep-13 16:57:30

going by my own and one friend's experience, the second approach did not work and made it worse.

JessicaAnne104 Thu 13-Jul-17 21:15:37

Hi. Starting school is hard for your child and for you. Its a transition for you both. I am also going through this process with my son and finding it very hard to know what the best answer is. In regards to weather you go down the slow progression or hard and fast approach. I have done both. My son didnt settle very well in preschool, so we started off with the hard approach. Which resulted in lots of tears both ends. When we then went back to basics and did a slow transition, it worked better, for both of us. Only you know what your child needs. I know its easy to say.. but do what you think is right... try one technique and if it doesn't work, try it another way. Its a huge step. Its ok for it to take time. xxx

I have posted a video about how to prepare your child for starting school on my YouTube channel. It has some hints and tips for how to make it a 'smooth' process. Ill post the link below. xxx

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